The sacrifices made by America’s veterans truly place them among our nation’s greatest heroes. These men and women have given so much of themselves for our country, and I am proud to represent the many thousands of veterans who call Rhode Island home.
It is Congress’s responsibility to provide access to quality benefits, assistance programs, and medical treatment upon separation from the Armed Forces, and I am working to ensure that all of our veterans receive the benefits they were promised and the recognition they deserve.
Funding Veterans Programs
Over the last several years, I have supported historic increases in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. These important increases not only reflect Congress’s recognition of our responsibility to care for our veterans, but also the need to honor our commitments to a new generation of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. I will continue to support full funding for the VA and continue working to improve its efficiency.
Housing for Veterans
In these difficult economic times, access to safe and affordable housing is serious concern. This is particularly true for disabled veterans, who often experience additional challenges in their transition back to civilian life. To help address this problem, I introduced the Veterans Homebuyer Accessibility Act, which will make it easier for disabled veterans, who have served with distinction, to perform the necessary adaptive modifications to their homes so they are able to move around comfortably and live independently. It will also help veterans purchase a home as they move back to our communities. While this is no substitute for the disability benefits owed though the VA, it is concrete action we can take now to make our veterans’ transition eminently easier.
Caring for Our Veterans
Mental Health: Between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2010, 2.15 million service members were deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom. After spending extended periods of time away from their families in hostile environments, returning servicemembers have been particularly vulnerable to the effects of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While many of these veterans have accessed mental health care through the VA health care system, too many veterans have been forced to seek care outside the VA system or have simply forgone treatment altogether due to the stigma of mental illness. I was proud to support the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which passed in 2015 and takes additional steps to address mental health and prevent suicide among veterans. For more information or help, you may visit the Veterans CrisisLine site, or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for veterans.
Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injuries: Between 2000 and 2014, over 300,000 cases of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) were recorded among service members. It is estimated that at least 20 percent of U.S. troops who were wounded in our most recent conflicts have been affected by a TBI. Advancing research into regenerating and repairing nervous system damage has shown real promise, giving hope to our military service members and veterans who have sustained these injuries in combat. I have been proud to introduce and support measures that have greatly increased the level and scope of research into TBI and spinal cord injuries, as well as other combat-related conditions, and I will continue to fight for research until we are able to repair these debilitating injuries that affect so many of our veterans.
A G.I. Bill for the 21st Century
Just as Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights in 1944 to extend educational resources to veterans returning home after serving in World War II, Congress has acted to extend educational support to these brave men and women who have honorably served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was proud to cosponsor and support the passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which allows servicemembers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan to qualify for educational assistance based on the amount of time served. Those serving at least three years on active duty are now receiving benefits covering the costs of a four-year education, based on the costs of the most expensive in-state public school.
Military and Veteran Caregivers
Many wounded, injured and disabled military service members and veterans rely on family members and friends for their day-to-day care. These family caregivers devote a substantial amount of time and effort caring for their loved ones at great personal sacrifice. They are often unprepared for these new responsibilities, and the challenges they face are daunting – from employment difficulties and financial challenges to depression and family stress. To address these urgent challenges, I have introduced the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act, which makes veterans of all eras eligible for caregiver support services; extends eligibility to include a wider array of needs that may require caregiving; and expands services available to caregivers, such as child care, financial advice and legal counseling. Among other provisions, the bill also creates a national interagency working group to coordinate caregiver policy and services, and it reauthorizes the Lifespan Respite Care Act, which provides grants to states to coordinate federal, state and local resources and streamline the delivery of planned and emergency respite services for family caregivers.